I guess it shouldn't surprise me any more, but, once again, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is smack in the middle of a campaign finance disclosure squabble. Since the early 2000s, the Chamber's been pumping lots of money into state races and fighting off efforts by candidates, liberal groups and, yes, reporters to find out where the money came from in the first place. This is particularly vexing because the Chamber has repeatedly told the IRS that it spends no money on political campaigns.
I bet they could defend that position quite well in a courtroom or administrative hearing.
But it often makes you scratch your head. When I was covering the Illinois Supreme Court race in 2004, the U.S. Chamber gave the state Republican party more than $1 million in one lump sum (you can do things like that in Illinois). The party turned around and gave almost all of that money to the GOP candidate within 24 hours. And then all parties agreed that there was no coordination going on.
The Chamber's used different tactics in different states. And now it turns out they're working closely with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's re-election team as they promote "issues" that seem awfully like the gov's re-election themes. From the LA Times:
By pumping the ad money through the chamber, well-heeled New Majority members have bypassed requirements that their donations be publicly disclosed. And they skirted the strict contribution limits — $22,300 each for the June 6 primary and again for the November general election — that would apply if they had donated directly to Schwarzenegger.
The chamber, which has put out the commercials in what it calls an "independent issue advocacy program," is not required to report where the funding comes from or adhere to donation limits.
[big snip] Both the chamber and the Schwarzenegger campaign say they have not consulted each other on the 30-second spots.
"The U.S. chamber's ad was not run in coordination with the governor's campaign for reelection," said Julie Soderlund, a spokeswoman for the Schwarzenegger campaign.
The first ad appeared March 8 and focused on Schwarzenegger's proposed public works construction project. When that foundered in the Legislature, the ad was replaced.
In the most recent commercial, the announcer reminds viewers of multibillion-dollar budget shortfalls, rolling blackouts and a hike in the vehicle license fee under Gov. Davis. The screen then fills with pictures of Schwarzenegger taking the oath of office, holding a child's face in his hands, mixing with enthusiastic crowds.
"Arnold Schwarzenegger delivered," the announcer says.
As the ad fades out, a message at the bottom of the screen says it was paid for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. There is no mention of other donors.
You can check out the ads for yourself here.
And the Times reporter reminds readers of the controversy the Chamber stirred up in Washington state two years ago:
The chamber faced heavy criticism for its actions in a 2004 attorney general's race in Washington state. It spent $1.5 million on ads criticizing one of the candidates, routing the money through a Seattle group that declined to reveal the source of the funds.
I imagine we'll hear plenty more from the Chamber before this year's elections are up.